As the chief financial officer at a university of almost 60,000 students, Geoff Chatas is not far removed from the impact of rising costs of tuition and debt on students. Now, as the chairman of a recently-announced higher education affordability task force, Chatas is tasked with figuring out how to cut some of these costs.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed executive order 2015-01K on Tuesday, creating the Ohio Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency in Higher Education, a group made up of nine members who have been asked to “examine ways for Ohio’s public colleges and universities to hold down costs,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.
In a Tuesday press conference, Kasich announced Chatas’ appointment as chairman of the task force.
“Now you might say, ‘Why would you pick a guy who is already in the middle of the place where there is problems?’ and I don’t mean necessarily Ohio State, but someone from the university system,” Kasich said. “It is because Ohio State, over the last few years, has embarked on a major program to get to the heart of the cost drivers.”
In the past, OSU has signed a variety of private contracts with companies, including a $32 million renewal agreement spanning 10 years that makes Coca-Cola the university’s exclusive beverage vendor.
OSU also has a $46 million, 11-year contract with Nike, and a 15-year, $125 million contract with Columbus-based Huntington, as well as a 10-year contract with apparel company J. America set to rake in $85 million plus royalties.
In March, OSU entered a 10-year, $17.1 million contract with Nationwide. Later that month, it struck a deal with Indianapolis-based Hat World Inc., doing business as Lids Sports Group, starting another 10-year agreement worth $12.05 million.
Kasich specifically mentioned OSU’s decision to lease its parking to Australian investment firm QIC Global Infrastructure in 2012. This contract involved a 50-year lease on the university’s parking assets for the price of $483 million.
“One of (the efforts to lower costs) started with the selling of the parking garages at Ohio State,” the governor said. “As Geoff effectively points out, a parking garage never really educated a student… Geoff is very well aware of the cost drivers that are involved here.”
Kasich said the task force will be asked to find costs within higher education that can be lessened or, in some cases, eliminated. Some areas of interest include making a more efficient use of space, eliminating low-enrollment courses and increasing use of technology.
The task force will be made up of five members who will be appointed by Kasich and two members who will be named by each chamber of the Ohio Legislature. This grouping will allow university leaders to discuss and work together to help make higher education affordable for students, Chatas said in an emailed statement.
“I’m honored that Gov. Kasich asked me to be part of this task force, and I’m thrilled to be part of this dialogue across the state,” he said. “I look forward to working with other college and university leaders to find innovative ways of supporting teaching, learning and research. By working together on affordability, we can make a real difference for students.”
In a Tuesday press release, OSU President Michael Drake said he approves of Kasich’s choice of Chatas as task force chair.
“I appreciate and value Gov. Kasich’s leadership that challenges universities and colleges to do more with less,” he said. “Geoff Chatas has positioned Ohio State as a national leader in maximizing our resources and adopting innovative funding strategies, and he will be an outstanding leader of this effort.”
The task force will be asked to issue a report based on its findings by Oct. 1.